2 Timothy 4 all       “Rescue”


            As we come to the end of the second letter of Paul to Timothy, we are in fact reading the last known words of Saint Paul. He was quite clear in the understanding that he would soon be facing the Emperor and would end up being martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ. These are his final words.

            I want you to think about what your final words in this world might be. Go on. Take a moment. I asked this in Bible Study. One of the respondents said, “Thank you Lord for keeping my life, but why did you wait so long to call me home?!” I found that response to be so profound! Another person responded with “Give me steak!” That is also good. I still wonder what my final words will be.

            I think about the last words that my mother spoke to me. They were not very profound. I did not know that she would die in her sleep and that I would never speak to her again. Maybe we all should be speaking to one another as if whatever we say might be our last words ever to that person. That would certainly change our perspective on things on a daily basis.

            I looked up some famous last words of famous people. They were all quite ordinary. Nothing profound at all. King George V of England simply said “Bugger.” Yeah, death is a bugger. So, I really appreciate these amazingly thoughtful words from Paul to Timothy.


            I want to jump right to verse 18 of today’s scripture. Paul writes: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom.” Do those words sound vaguely familiar to your ears? Where have you heard such before? You have to think back to the Sermon on the Mount with Jesus teaching us all how to pray. That is one of the lines of the Lord’s Prayer: “Deliver us from evil.” Here the word in English is “deliver” rather than “rescue,” but in fact it is the exact same word in the Greek—ρυσεται. When you pray the Lord’s Prayer you are in fact asking God to “rescue you  from the Evil One.” You are asking to be rescued to the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul is simply reiterating Jesus’ words to the disciples and to all of us today.

            It is a truism that if you realize that you cannot save yourself, then you must be rescued. Christianity starts with the basic premise that one cannot save themselves. There is no way that anybody can enter eternal life without God, without the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, in a way, the proto-step to being a Christian is realizing that you are helplessly lost and are not going to make it on your own—you need rescue.

            I recall once when some friends and I were quite sure that we were going to die. We had started hiking up a mountain in the Swiss Alps. We had struggled the whole day to get to the top. By the time we reached the summit, we had only about an hour of daylight left, not much food, and no camping equipment with us. It was that crazy adolescent hubris that brought us to the summit only to realize we would freeze to death sometime in the night. We needed rescue.

            We were saved by a cow. It looked like a well-fed Jersey cow with a lovely bell around its neck. We saw the cow at the summit of the mountain and all thought the same thing: “Give me steak!” At least we would eat well before our demise! Then, someone asked the perfectly inspired question, “How did a cow get to the summit?” There had to be an easier way up and down the mountain. We looked to the back side of the mountain and, sure enough, it was more a gentle slope actually covered in a nice blanket of snow—with cow tracks.

            We did not kill and cook the cow. We followed its trail back down the mountain by sliding on our backpacks. We were off the mountain and back in our mountain hut just as the last light left the sky. Thank you God for sending us that cow! We would not have survived without it. To this day I think to myself: “Holy Cow!”


            Saint Paul has also known miraculous rescue during his life. On the road to Damascus Jesus appeared to him. He was made blind. Then in Damascus and man named Ananias heals his vision and gives him his life back. We heard last week about how Paul had been stoned and left for dead in Lystra. Then, he just pops back to life. He had to escape Ephesus once when a riot wanted to kill him. He was lowered over the wall in a basket and hence rescued. He was rescued from prison. He was rescued from a shipwreck on Malta. He was rescued from a snake bite. Really, Paul’s whole ministry has been one rescue after another. God had delivered him so many times from the Evil One that there is no doubt left in Paul’s mind that even in death God will come to the rescue once more.

            Saint Paul states openly his belief on this point in the beginning of our Scripture: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the quick and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his Kingdom. . . .” Whether in life or in death, he is in the presence of Jesus’ grace over him.

            Where have we heard this idea before? Oh yes, Romans 14:7-9: “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live of whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the quick and the dead.”


            During this pandemic this last year, it has felt as if death has been niggling closer and closer to us. Have you had that sense? Along  with other terms we never used to hear before the pandemic (and “pandemic” being one of those words), besides N95 masks, ppe’s, and the like is “excess death.” I never knew of such a thing as “excess death.” I thought death was just death. I did not think it came in excess. Yet, in 2020 it did. So, on average so many folks die in the US every year. That number is fairly constant as a measured as a percentage of the general population. This last year that number jumped by 23% apparently. This number is attributed to Covid 19 and the more than half a million people who have died—God rest their souls.

            I have to point out that as sad as that number is, some countries have had even worse excess death rates. Russia, for instance, with half the population of the US has had almost a similar number of excess deaths in 2020, in essence their percentage is twice.

            So, I am reading these words from Paul to Timothy, and I see that he is not talking about his own immanent death. He is trying to lead Timothy and all of us to something else. It is not about excess death because of Covid, but rather about “excess life” in Christ.

            In John 10:10 we read these famous words of Jesus: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus came to give us abundant life, even in times of excess death.


            What are Paul’s instructions for Timothy’s excess life? Look at verse 2: Proclaim the message , be persistent, convince, rebuke, encourage, be patient, be sober, endure suffering, carry out your ministry fully. WE will do those things and have excess life in return!

            Keep looking at the further instructions in this text and you will see something else that just really pops out although Paul does not write about it directly: Paul starts talking about all those other people in his ministry that have been with him. Some seem to have failed him; others have not. You get the sense that Paul after all is said and done really was a team player. Living life abundantly in Christ means being with others who are believers.

            And, he calls Timothy to come to him. He even tells Timothy to bring his books and his coat because winter is coming. All of this while he knows he is going to be martyred soon. Just the same, he must live for today—as we all must. He is not going to stop living until he stops living. He is not going to stop the ministry, although he is imprisoned under house arrest, until he is no longer able. He will find a way to keep sharing the gospel and bringing abundant life in Christ to others.


            That leads us to the last line of the letter. The line seems so unassuming. “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.” Yet, that is exactly what he started with in saying that his life has been forever blessed with the presence of the Spirit of God. Paul has known an excess of life because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. He blesses us with that as well. Life in this world. Life unto the Kingdom of God.